Population screening for liver fibrosis: towards early diagnosis and intervention for chronic liver diseases

Hepatology. 2021 Sep 19. doi: 10.1002/hep.32163. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Cirrhosis, highly prevalent worldwide, develops after years of hepatic inflammation triggering progressive fibrosis. Currently, the main etiologies of cirrhosis are non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcohol-related liver disease (ALD), although chronic hepatitis B and C infections are still major etiological factors in some areas of the world. Recent studies have shown that liver fibrosis can be assessed with relatively high accuracy non-invasively by serological tests, transient elastography, and radiological methods. These modalities may be utilized for screening for liver fibrosis in at-risk populations. Thus far, a limited number of population-based studies using non-invasive tests in different areas of the world indicate that a significant percentage of subjects without known liver disease (around 5% in general populations and a higher rate -18 to 27%- in populations with risk factors for liver disease) have significant undetected liver fibrosis or established cirrhosis. Larger international studies are required to show the harms and benefits before concluding that screening for liver fibrosis should be applied to populations at risk for chronic liver diseases. Screening for liver fibrosis has the potential for changing the current approach from diagnosing chronic liver diseases late when patients have already developed complications of cirrhosis to diagnosing liver fibrosis in asymptomatic subjects providing the opportunity of preventing disease progression.

Keywords: Cirrhosis; NAFLD; NASH; Screening; chronic liver diseases; fibrosis.

Publication types

  • Review